'My Cambridge' - a cultural education partnership

‘My Cambridge’ aims to ensure that every young person growing up in and around Cambridge can benefit from its world-class cultural assets. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - learning and development section of our online Culture Hub.

Cambridge is famous for its rich cultural assets and is seen as a highly successful place. However, for some young people growing up in parts of the city, this is not recognised as part of ‘their’ Cambridge. The latest social mobility index demonstrated that locations such as Cambridge, despite having very good overall outcomes for children and young people, can be challenging places for those in low-income households.

‘My Cambridge’ is a cultural educational partnership aiming to ensure that every young person benefits from these cultural assets. It brings together Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, arts and cultural providers, schools and other partners. The high-level outcome is to ensure that every child and young person can confidently construct their own cultural life, drawing on and feeling connected to the whole of their city.

Impact of the project

Cambridge City Council adopted a new Arts Plan in 2015, which set out a more strategic and enabling role for the council. Partnership is a key delivery mechanism in the new plan, and a partnership for children and young people was identified as a priority. This led to the ‘My Cambridge’ partnership, which had an initial focus on gathering evidence to understand the problem and the partners’ shared territory. Delivery has now begun with some simple interventions identified through that process. For example, University of Cambridge Museums are working with four schools to embed Arts Award delivery and increase its take-up across the city.

In another initiative, primary school pupils are exploring local history through guided walks. These walking trips are followed up with opportunities for their families to visit the city centre and share the artistic outcomes of the project at a central church. There are promising early signs that this relatively simple intervention is building a greater sense of connection to place and enabling children to take a lead and learn about the available cultural offer.

‘My Cambridge’ is seen as a vital part of place-making for Cambridge: by actively working to engage every young person with the city in which they live, the council intends to reduce the gap between success/growth and disadvantage/isolation. Councillor Richard Johnson, Executive Councillor for Communities, said: “Partnership working is a powerful tool for bringing the collective resources of a place to bear on big issues. Our role is very much as a catalyst and I would recommend this approach to any local authority, even if you do not have specialist cultural staff in-house.”

Looking to the future 

The team is now working on tools for in-depth qualitative studies and large-scale evidence gathering – not only to improve practice, but to put in place the quality of evidence required to show whether cultural engagement does have a positive impact on outcomes. They are also looking at how to develop the existing library card into a card that supports wider cultural engagement, enabling card holders to track their cultural activity, collect points and receive incentives. This will give providers a clearer picture of who is, and is not, engaging with their activities and will help policymakers to link a detailed picture of cultural engagement to specific objectives. 

Key learning points

  • The process of building trust and confidence across organisations cannot be underestimated: moving too quickly, or not checking that everyone is on board and is being listened to, risks the integrity of the partnership.  
  • Every step must make sense to all the partners and this starts with developing a proper understanding of their shared territory, rather than jumping straight to delivery.

For further information contact Jane Wilson, Culture and Community Manager, Cambridge City Council: jane.wilson@cambridge.gov.uk  


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England